Greta Gerwig

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Dawn Wiener is dead, long live Dawn Wiener! Todd Solondz‘s second feature film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, is hailed as the filmmaker’s big breakthrough — a bold, gross, weird and uncomfortably honest look at one awkward tween’s coming-of-age in nineties New Jersey. The film starred Heather Matarazzo as Dawn “Wiener Dog” Wiener, an outcast desperate to fit in with her bone-headed peers, her terrible family and a classmate who repeatedly attempts to rape her. As is Solondz’s signature, the film is admirable and unique, even if you feel like you need a shower after watching it. The Hollywood Reporter now reports that Solondz is “sort of” working a sequel to the 1995 Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning feature film, as the filmmaker is currently casting for Wiener-Dog, billed as “an ensemble indie that is tied together thematically by a dachshund.” Moreover, “the script tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy.” Of course, anyone who is familiar with Solondz likely won’t think, “oh, yes, a dog” when they hear “wiener-dog,” they’ll think of Dawn Wiener, and they won’t be wrong, because one of the new film’s stories will indeed be about Dawn Wiener. Wait. How does that work?

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Broad Green Pictures

Eden is a film about passion, at least at first. It’s about youth and the thrill of finding community in art, the music that takes over your soul. It’s about dancing, drugs, and sex. It’s Almost Famous and Finding Llewyn Davis, sort of. By the time it ends it’s covered over two decades of dreams and successes, setbacks and failures, all of the above and nothing at all. Mia Hansen-Love‘s fourth feature begins in the early 1990s. A French teenager named Paul (Felix de Givry) and his friends are on the cusp of falling deeply in love with garage, the genre of electronic dance music that grew up at Paradise Garage in New York City. These are early days, with raves held in caves and disused submarines hanging around the French countryside. Paul has a moment of revelation under some trees in the early dawn, his post-concert gray haze interrupted by a bright orange bird, animated into the frame like something out of Mary Poppins. This technique doesn’t come back, but it doesn’t have to. Hansen-Love lets us know from the beginning that for Paul, music is magic (and possibly hallucination).

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The Humbling

Simon Axler (Al Pacino) is prone to theatrics, and while it would be easy to blame his life-long career as a reasonably well-regarded actor for such a personality defect (Simon certainly loves to do that), the most likely culprit for his over-the-top acting out is that he’s a selfish bastard who has never been called out on his crap. Sick over the apparent loss of his “craft” (either in terms of interest or actual ability, it’s never exactly clear), Simon attempts suicide by throwing himself off the stage during a performance. It’s the height of self-involved folly, and although it’s amusing and appropriately bizarre as it unfolds, it soon becomes just another example of Simon’s self-involved attitude and inability to differentiate between the real world and the make believe one. Shipped off to a high-class funny farm, Simon doesn’t learn a damn thing – shocking, right? – and is soon returned back to his big country house to bang around, mutter incoherently about his place in the world and attempt to romance the least appropriate person around. Based on Philip Roth’s novel of the same name, Barry Levinson’s The Humbling tracks Simon’s protracted downfall, but the film itself is such a tremendous letdown that Simon’s problems prove minuscule by comparison. 

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Frances Ha - Greta Gerwig

The entire planet was palled by a cratering sadness late last night when it was announced by Variety that Greta Gerwig, Queen of Indie Darlings, had signed on to produce, write and star in CBS’s spin-off sitcom How I Met Your Dad. Her most ardent fans are furious that they’ll be able to see an actress they love on a weekly basis. Of course, per Arbitrary Cultural Rule #293, it also means that her nuanced indie filmmaking career is over. As we all know, once you’ve chosen artless sell-out fare that will provide a higher profile that empowers you to make more personal films, you can never make a personal film again. To make matters worse, Gerwig’s show will shoot in New York City where independent films are rarely, if ever, made.

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Cate Blanchett NY Times clip (Screengrab)

The experiment seems healthy enough. Take 10 incredible performers from 2013, get random lines of dialogue from 10 other creatives, snag some shoot time with Janusz Kaminski and deliver something poetic for the end of the year. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the results of The New York Times Magazine “Making a Scene” project are an eyebrow-stretching blend of unintentional hilariousness and forced high art importance. Make no mistake, Kaminski knows how to shoot. We’ve known that since (at least) Schindler’s List, and a reminder is always welcomed, but it’s disheartening to see so much talent utilized in the pursuit of whatever is going on here. In one scene Cate Blanchett sits down to a delicious fish in a pristine setting, utters a line provided by mumblecore maven Andrew Bujalski, then throws herself back against the bench with Norma Desmond-esque gusto. In another, Bradley Cooper rage dances in a puddle. Thanks to Greta Gerwig and Adele Exarchopoulos there are two (two!) shorts where women act manically before saying something idiosyncratic and losing control. Bonus points go to Gerwig for saying her dialogue to a taxidermied bear.

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Noah Baumbach

No, this piece will not be styled as an actual love letter to Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s charmer, due to hit cinephile-near-you shelves later this week with its Criterion Collection release, but it will be an intense appreciation of the film. (Consider this a warning if, for any reason, you’re averse to the feature – and also, what is wrong with you?) Baumbach and Gerwig’s film first popped up as a somewhat minor attraction at last year’s Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. It sounded like a curiosity – a black and white Baumbach co-written by and starring the director’s real-life lady love, a slim feature about a wayward young New York City gal who is not actually good at a lot of things but who approaches challenges great and small with a plucky gusto. She lives in a shitty apartment in Brooklyn. She’s an interpretive dancer. Her best friend Sophie is the most important person in her life. If any of these details made you snarkily think something along the lines of “oh, but I’ve already seen Girls,” you’re not alone. I thought that, too. And, despite a hearty love of both Gerwig and Baumbach, I was burnt out on the director’s post-Margot at the Wedding sardonics and Gerwig’s lackluster turn in the even more lackluster Lola Versus. My fears were unfounded.

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Noah Baumbach

It starts like any other love story – there is dancing and music and laughter and secrets and plans – but no matter how it might look at first blush, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha isn’t a film about a pair of twentysomethings falling in and out of love in New York City, it’s a film about a pair of twentysomethings falling in and out of friendship in New York City. The result is something far more rich and rewarding than the vast majority of wide release, standard issue romantic comedies, and perhaps star Greta Gerwig‘s most charming performance yet. When it comes to romance, Frances (Gerwig) isn’t so concerned with finding a boyfriend, since she’s quite perfectly happy with her life as is, because even though it includes a potentially dead-end career (she’s a modern dancer who can’t really dance), it also includes her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Well, for now. Most love stories do, after all, end. When Sophie unceremoniously (and seemingly unfeelingly) moves out on Frances in favor of a better apartment in a better zip code, the divide between the pair seems clearer than ever. Sophie has matured beyond Frances, at least in a traditional sense, and Sophie’s allegiances now lay with her boyfriend Patch (yes, Patch) and her blossoming career in publishing (though Frances never fails to remind people that Sophie doesn’t even really read). Her friendship with Sophie has served as the defining relationship in Frances’ current life, and when she is “dumped” […]

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noah-baumbach

Frances Ha is new territory for writer-director Noah Baumbach. To briefly pigeonhole him as a filmmaker, he’s not the type of storyteller we expect to show someone joyously running down the street cued to David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” We’d expect to see a character breaking down talking about how much they hate the poppiness of that Bowie song and the people who love it. Roger Greenberg or Bernard Berkman wouldn’t have been a fan of that song or the character at the center of Frances Ha, Frances (Greta Gerwig). She’s Baumbach’s most conventionally likable character yet. She has plenty of financial and career drama, but, even with some of that despair, Baumach’s picture, which he co-wrote with Gerwig, has a happy personality to it. Happiness is not the a feeling generally associated with Baumbach’s directorial work, but he seems comfortable with that new territory. Here’s what the director of Frances Ha, Greenberg, and The Squid and the Whale had to say about Gremlins, his love of Woody Allen, and intimate stories:

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Noah Baumbach

Surely, we’ve heard this one before – Greta Gerwig stars as a confused twentysomething, shuffling her way through life in big, bad New York City, along with her coterie of cool pals, all looking for some kind of life-changing breakthrough – but Noah Baumbach‘s Frances Ha looks markedly different from its genre brethren, if only because Gerwig looks so damn charming in it. In Frances Ha, Gerwig plays the eponymous Frances who is, well, a confused twentysomething shuffling her way through life. Actually, she dances, because Frances is sort of a modern dancer – but, then again, it seems like Frances is “sort of” a lot of things. Will she ever figure it all out? Oh, probably. Watch Greta Gerwig dance (adorably!) through her confusing life in the first trailer for Frances Ha, after the break.

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Noah Baumbach

Indie auteur Noah Baumbach‘s latest film, the Greta Gerwig-starring Frances Ha, centers on Gerwig’s shiftless New Yorker Frances, a twentysomething still trying to figure it (or anything) out. Of course, being a hip NYC gal, Frances’ life is populated with all sorts of nifty hipsters, including (apparently) dudes named “Patch.” In this new clip from the spring release, a sprightly Frances begs her best pal to hang out with her, stretches the limits of leggings, and possesses the sort of whimsy outlook on life we should expect to see much more of in Frances Ha. Check out Gerwig’s flexible moves and talk of a man named “Patch” in the new clip after the break.

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Frances Ha is a Noah Baumbach film without bitterness. This is perhaps unexpected, given the man’s track record. Greenberg is practically an essay on acerbity, while The Squid and the Whale traffics in plenty of divorce-inspired acrimony. That doesn’t mean that his prior work is somehow one-dimensional or excessively pessimistic, far from it. Rather, it makes his newest feature a surprising deviation into joy, if not necessarily optimism. There’s no doubt that this shift comes courtesy of Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the script and lights up the screen with her performance. It is a collaboration that blends the artistic sensibilities of Baumbach and Gerwig into a new take on the post-college identity crisis. The lack of belligerence, importantly, is not because the protagonist has nothing about which to be bitter. Frances (Gerwig) is 27 years old, living in Brooklyn, and trying to support herself as an apprentice dancer. Her friends all seem to be doing much better than she is, finding good jobs and nice apartments they can afford. They get progressively more irritating, settling down to married life with Goldman Sachs like irritating bit characters in a Woody Allen party scene. Meanwhile Frances herself is taking step after step in the other direction, losing roommates, jobs and places to live. Yet where Ben Stiller’s Greenberg would just get aggravated and darkly comic, Gerwig has a joie de vivre that refuses to let the film sting.

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Perhaps we were spoiled with last year’s Midnight in Paris, auteur Woody Allen‘s return to (delightful) form after a few years of basically forgettable, minor efforts like Whatever Works, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream, and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Suffice to say, Allen’s next cinematic trip to a classic, romantic European city has come complete with heightened expectations, and while his To Rome With Love occasionally harnesses some of the charm and ease of Paris, it’s a wholly different film experience, and a less enjoyable one to boot. Much like Paris, Allen has lined up a sizable and talented cast for his latest outing, though he’s chosen Rome as his own spin on throwaway rom-coms like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day and the far superior Love, Actually, instead of focusing on a single leading character. Allen uses the city of Rome as the (often only) link between all manner of people – Italians, Americans, young, old, famous, common, talented, sexy, unsexy, ambitious, bored, confused, the list goes on – and lets them play out their theatrically-tinged trials and tribulations against a gorgeous Roman backdrop. It’s frothy and fizzy enough, but To Rome With Love isn’t the sort of film that is likely to leave a lasting impact on its audience. It’s popcorn entertainment for the indie set.

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“Being single builds character.” At least that’s what Lola Versus‘s ostensible heroine (Greta Gerwig) wants to believe as she stumbles and shuffles through life post-break-up and pre-thirtieth birthday in Daryl Wein‘s girl-on-the verge hipster rom-com, so it’s too bad that it takes her too long to form what one would call character (or even just plain old backbone). The film’s plot is simple to the point of absolute cliche – twenty-nine-year-old Lola is unexpectedly dumped by her beloved fiancee Luke (Joel Kinnaman) just weeks before their wedding, a blow that sends her into a tailspin and makes her reevaluate her entire life. Boom. The end. That’s it. Yes, you’ve seen it before and you’ve probably seen it done better. But, what Lola Versus really presupposes is that maybe you’ve also seen it done worse.

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Writer/director Whit Stillman‘s name hasn’t graced the big screen since his slightly divisive The Last Days of Disco hit thirteen years ago. That’s quite a long time between features, but if it takes Stillman that amount of time to write the dialogue he’s regarded for, then the wait is more than worth any inconvenience. So, it’s with Damsels in Distress that the breakout filmmaker of the ’90s returns with his signature wit and style. Speaking with the self-depreciating Stillman, it was clear his process is never quick and easy. From going through screenwriting books to attending Robert McKee‘s course, the Damsels in Distress director knows there is no right way to tell a story. What he unquestionably knows is musical dialogue, which, as he tells it, informs his stories. Here’s what Whit Stillman had to say about being rejected by NYU, how the director is the only one allowed to be an ignoramus on set, and how your first ideas are always your worst:

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Greta Gerwig is no stranger to screenwriting, as already in her young career she’s had writing credits on indie standouts like Nights and Weekends and Hannah Takes the Stairs. But, most recently, she’s been focusing more heavily on acting, as she’s been getting a string of roles in increasingly more mainstream projects. She’s gone from being the darling of the mumblecore movement, a sort of punk rock form of indie filmmaking that was all the rage a few years ago, to having roles in mainstream comedies like Arthur and No Strings Attached, and being featured in the films of big names in the arthouse world like Noah Baumbach, Whit Stillman, and Woody Allen. Still, despite her success in front of the camera, it doesn’t seem like the actress is ready to give up her creative pursuits behind the scenes just yet. In an interview promoting her work in Stillman’s recent release, Damsels in Distress, Gerwig talked to The Telegraph about a project that she has recently written; one that’s already been shot, even though there isn’t any news about it out there. That’s very sneaky.

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It’s deeply distressing to see an actress such as Greta Gerwig, whose work I enjoy so immensely since she popped up in Hannah Takes the Stairs, end up in so many films that I didn’t like. Namely 2011’s The Dish & The Spoon and Arthur. That said, it sure won’t stop me from being hopeful that she will break out big in 2012, with Whit Stillman’s  Damsels in Distress hitting this week, a spot in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love in the summer and this film, Lola Versus. Fox Searchlight has released the first trailer for Lola Versus, in which Ms. Gerwig plays the titular gal, who finds herself dumped by her boyfriend just three weeks before their wedding. In response, she sets out with a group of her closest friends on and adventure through life and love that will hopefully help her deal with coming up on 30 as a single woman. It’s not exactly targeted at bearded 20-something men like myself, but I’ll be damned if Greta isn’t super charming in this trailer. Consider me an optimist on this one. You may find yourself in a similar position after watching the trailer.

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly collection of movie news and editorial links that will certainly be living long and prospering. Both because it is what our super hip Commander-in-Chief commands of us and because of you, the faithful reader. We begin this evening with a shot of President Obama and Star Trek‘s Nichelle Nichols in the Oval Office, giving up  the “live long and prosper”  salute that originated in the first episode of Star Trek: The Original Series’ second season. The two racial barrier-breakers met recently, with the photo following from Ms. Nichols’ Twitter feed. It’s room for hope, you know, that the Star Trek future will eventually come true. Also, Obama’s a nerd.

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Within mere seconds, it’s obvious that writer-director-producer Whit Stillman’s first film in over a decade is going to have a spirit all of its own – after all, Damsels in Distress opens with a bright pink Sony Pictures Classic logo, a change-up from their classic blue. The message is clear – it’s the damsels’ world, we’re just living in it. Set at Seven Oaks College, a small liberal arts school somewhere on the East coast, Stillman’s film centers on the perpetually charming Greta Gerwig’s Violet and her three best pals as the foursome attempt to navigate the rough waters of friendship and romance in collegiate life. However, Stillman’s film twists around that bland and done-to-death premise with his most effervescent and light-hearted film yet, a fairy tale set in the real world and acted out by memorably off-beat and good-hearted characters.

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Woody Allen continues his European tour with his next film, To Rome With Love. This time around, the auteur appears to stick with the light fluffiness that made his Midnight in Paris such a delight to behold, but with a much deeper cast of characters to suit the film’s vignette style. The film’s synopsis tells us that it “is comprised of four separate vignettes and tells the story of a number of people in Italy—some American, some Italian, some residents, some visitors—and the romances and adventures and predicaments they get into.” Players in those various vignettes include Allen himself, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Robert Benigni, Judy Davis, Alison Pill, and Greta Gerwig. With the film’s first trailer, we get our first glimpse what we can expect from each section – Allen being neurotic (shock); a potential love triangle involving Eisenberg, Gerwig, and Page; a flimsy and flighty Cruz; and Benigni becoming famous for something. I can already guess which vignettes I’ll feel the most amore for – can you?

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Whit Stillman was basically the king of the indies back in the 90s. The decade saw him release Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco, three movies about the young upper crust that got quite a bit of attention and earned him almost mythic status among the film nerd community. But the last time we saw a release from him was way back in 1998. I’m not going to do the math, but that was a long time ago. Does Stillman still got it? In a word, yes. I was fortunate enough to see Damsels in Distress last year at TIFF, and I have to say, it’s by far my favorite Stillman work yet. This movie once again deals mostly with college-aged, well-off white people, but it’s so much more whimsical and more fairy tale-like than anything Stillman has done before. Damsels in Distress takes place in a world that looks a lot like our own, but where things aren’t quite the same; they’re a little bit weirder, and a little bit more wonderful. This is the sort of world where a new kind of soap can save a life and a new dance craze can break out at any moment. Check out said whimsy in the film’s first trailer:

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published: 12.17.2014
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